Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Shores of Michigan

On Episode 260 of the Katia and Kyliemac Podcast (if you aren't already listening, you should be!) Kyliemac talks a little bit about the shores of Michigan.

It is true that we do not have real beaches, but neither does Nice, the Nice beach is all pebbles. Nice is gorgeous, but I think we give them a run for their money on beautiful scenery.

I took these pictures "up north" on the Leelenau Peninsula from the light of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse - basically, the very very tip of the pinky. Going "up north" is a thing for Michiganders. Up north signifies any part of the state further north than halfway up your fingers, so the northern half of the lower peninsula and the entire Upper Peninsula. It's gorgeous, thinly populated, lots of outdoor activities, especially on the water. We have four out of the five Great Lakes and we like using them. The lakes are so large you can't see from one side to the other.

We were there at the same time as the National Cherry Festival, featuring lots of cherry products, naturally, and a parade with a real Cherry Queen. This is a terrible picture, and the Cherry Queen isn't even on the float, but it gives you an idea of the cutsieness (hokieness?) of the festival.

If my description of Michigan geography using the hand to describe it didn't make any sense, take a look at a map of my state. The cherry festival is held in Traverse City, and Leelenau is the small peninsula to the right of Traverse City.

Looks like a mitten, right? If I'm talking about Michigan geography I hold up the back of my left hand and start pointing at knuckles and fingers and veins.

Monday, July 27, 2009

How to Send Your Stuff Back to the US

I shipped seven different packages back to the US and decided to post the different shipping options here in the hopes that someone may find it useful. I had the luck of being helped by a very nice guy at La Poste back in April when I was sending a present back to the US, so when it came time to ship my stuff in July I was prepared with my options. I'll include prices for other non-EU anglophone countries as well.

Option One: If You're Sending Books (to the US, maybe others?)
Boxes of books up to 4 kg or 8.8 lbs (although I think they'll take up to 5kg because my box came in at 4.2 kg) have a special rate in order to "facilitate cultural exchanges" (that's what the guy told me). Of course I can't find an actual rate online, but the package I sent that was 4.2 kg only cost me about 13 euros. It's a great deal, and I definitely recommend sending your books separately in order to save some money.

Option Two: Sending a Small Envelope (all non-EU countries)
You can send up to 1 kg (2.2 lbs) in small envelopes that come with a little bubble wrap to help cushion things inside. They only cost 14 or 15 euros, so this is also a good deal if you're sending something small and not too fragile. The envelope is called Chrono Express and it arrives in the US in a week. It's cheaper than making a box of things that weigh 1 kg. Sending a 1 kg box to the US, Canada and South Africa costs almost 17 euros, to Australia, New Zealand or India it would cost 21.50. It isn't a huge saving to the US, Canada, and SA, but every few euros helps, right?

There is also a similar Chrono post box that you can send for overnight delivery but that costs about 90 euros, so I only recommend that in case of emergency.

Option Three: Make Your Own Box (all non-EU countries, different rates apply)
You can pick up any box you have lying around or can scrounge from your schools or local businesses, pack it, stick on an address, then take it to the post office, fill out customs forms, and pay for it based on the kilo. If you're sending between 2-5 kg (4.4 - 11 lbs) that isn't only books or over 7 kg (15.4 lbs), this is probably your best option. 3 kg (6.6 lbs) costs 25.20 to the US, Canada and SA and 36.90 to Australia, India or NZ. If you send 10 kg you spend 75.60 to the US etc and 93.60 to NZ etc.

Those are the "economique" prices, there is also an express price but again, it's extremely expensive and not worth it unless it's urgent.

Rates can be found here.

Option Four: Colissimo International (all non-EU countries, same rate)
In my opinion this is probably your best option for non-books. You can buy flat-rate international boxes from your local La Poste, put your stuff inside, fill out some customs forms, stick on an address, and then drop it back off at the post office. A large box that holds 5 kg costs 35.50, or extra large costs 41 euros and holds up to 7 kg. The weight limits don't really count because no one weighed my packages, so as long as you aren't sending 15 kg, I wouldn't worry about it. These rates are better than you can get making your own package, especially for Australia, NZ and India. The downside is that the boxes are sort of unsturdy, I put a lot of extra tape on them, but all of my stuff arrived in good shape and the boxes didn't break, they just bent a bit, so it probably isn't a good option for anything fragile. They arrive in about a week.

Hope someone finds this helpful!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Food Tag

I was tagged by Zhu to list seven foods from France that I like and seven that I don't. Let's start with the foods I like:

Croissants, especially croissants au beurre

This is how I measure how good a bakery is. If the croissant is good, the rest of the stuff will be good. A good croissant is a delicate balance of buttery-ness and crispyness and just melts in your mouth with how good it is. You can only find good croissants in France, don't even try in the US. I think the secret is the butter. French butter has a higher butterfat content; it must contain at least 82% butterfat while in America only 80% is required, and the process used to make butter also adds more acidity to the flavor. Other croissant varieties are croissant aux amandes, croissant aux amandes et chocolat (deee-lish!), and I've also seen croissant aux framboises.

Quiches and tartes

Not the same thing, but similar enough that they get lumped together so I can include crepes on my list.

I love being able to buy delicious little mini quiches at local boulangeries. You can go in at lunch, look at your choices, pick a yummy little quiche and get it heated and ready to eat right away. My favorite boulangerie in my town in France, also the best one in town (had to try them all, of course) had this amazing tomato mustard quiche that I used to buy a lot. The classic quiche is of course the quiche lorraine, but I've never had one because I don't eat pig products. I assume it's good though. Salmon and spinach and tuna and tomato are other common combinations.
Tartes in France can be sweet or savory and I like both. Sweet tartes are basically a pie without the pastry on top. Again, you can get little mini tarte bites from boulangeries, which are usually sweet (tarte a la framboise and tarte a la fraise), or you can get big pie-sized tartes, usually tarte aux pommes or tarte tatin (both made with apples). The savory ones are a lot like quiches but they do not have an egg base. A popular savory tarte in the northern departements is tarte aux maroilles - the stinky cheese made popular by Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis.
*Note: boulangeries are open all day long and are therefore a good option for picking up a snack if you're hungry at 4 PM when all the restaurants are closed.


I love duck, and I love that it is on every menu in France. Magret de canard, or duck breast, with a fruit sauce, is a classic, as is confit de canard, or duck cooked in its own fat (sounds disgusting but is tender and tasty). I had the best duck of my life when I was in the Loire with my parents - a wonderful confit de canard in a curry sauce. Magret de canard is also common on salads.

Crepes and Galettes

Love 'em. Nutella crepes on the street are one of the best things you will ever eat. I also really like galettes. The only problem with crepes and galettes is that they aren't really filling enough to make a meal and they're kind of expensive, so you end up spending a lot of money trying to have a filling dinner. I did stumble on a crepe and salad place in the Marais once that had a well-priced menu.
*I'm also a fan of the galette des rois


Yep, I actually like the infamous snails! It isn't about the snail itself, it's all about the sauce, a buter, garlic and herb based sauce that gives flavor to otherwise chewy little gastropods.


I'm a big fan of dairy products, especially cheese. Sure, I miss cheddar, but I enjoy the infinite variety of cheeses in France. France has between 350 and 400 different types of cheese. I wasn't able to pin down an exact number. Who knew that so many different flavors could be created by a bacterial process?


Naturally baguettes are a favorite - a cheap, quick way to have a carb with your dinner or make a gigantic sandwich - but I also love all the different types of bread. They use a lot of different types of grains and yeasts to make different "normal" breads that are good. They also put things like olives, cheese, and tomatoes into bread and those are really good. That's something I wish we had more of in the US.

Now onto the foods I don't like:

Boudin Noir
Blood sausage. Need I say more? I blame the fact that I try this on cruel French people who took advantage of the fact that I was newly arrived and didn't speak French that well yet.

Herbs and Spices, or lack thereof

Sorry France, seasoning with only salt and pepper just doesn't cut it. And the complete and utter lack of heat in anything is just annoying. I can't even tell you how many times someone has said to me "careful! it's spicy!" only to try it myself and not be able to taste any spice whatsoever. Flavoring doesn't even have to be hot, you can use things that add flavor like rosemary, basil, oregano... Food in the south tends to have more herby flavoring but in the north salt and pepper are the only things in the spice cabinet. They buy mayonnaise and mustard to eat with the food to give it flavor.

Overabundance of pig products

As previously stated, I don't eat anything that was part of a pig at one point in time. Yes, I grew up in a kosher house, pigs are expressly forbidden, that of course has something to do with it. But I've tried pork and it just doesn't cut it for me, I find it flavorless and fatty and gross. But of course in France there are always lardons on salads and in quiches and omelettes. Yuck.


This was another incident when I was tricked into trying something by cruel Frenchies. Andouilletes are sausages made out of intestines. Gross. In fact, let's just state right now that anything made out of intestines and stomachs and non-muscular parts of the body of an animal are very gross in my book. Remember, Americans like to think that the meat they buy in little plastic packages has nothing to do with actual animals who once wandered in the fields.

Foie gras

I have no idea why this is considered a delicacy, to me it just tastes fatty and blah. The texture is all off. And I haven't even started talking about the inhumane practices in several foie gras farms.

French barbecue

Wimpy sausages and bland rice salads do not a BBQ make! The French are convinced that little skinny sausages and merguez are the basis of a good barbecue (I'll avoid the obvious joke about French men). Sometimes if you're lucky you get flavorless brochettes, which are either chicken or pork on a stick with peppers, onions, and sometimes other veggies. And then you get the rice salads. Rice mixed with canned corn and other diced vegetables, usually without any sauce to give it some flavor. If you're ever invited to a French BBQ, make sure you eat beforehand so that you don't have rely on their food to fill you up. Of course, since it will be a few hours between the time you arrive and the time you actually eat, that really won't help you much. I've been to several French BBQs and the only one that was comparable to an American barbecue was the night I herded sheep. The lamb chops probably came from that same herd.

Flammekueche, or Tarte Flambee

I don't hate it, but I wouldn't choose to eat it. For me it's an inferior form of pizza. Traditionally flammekueche is topped with creme fraiche, onions, and lardons (see above about pig products). You can get get other ingredients on it, like provencal style or even sweet varieties, but no matter what you put on it you're basically eating a super thin, hard to cut pizza with no sauce. Sauce is an important component of my pizzas, so tarte flambee doesn't really do it for me.

There you have it. Seven foods I do and don't like from France. I never know if people find it annoying to be tagged or not, so I'm not sure who to tag or how many, but something tells me that Andromeda and Leesa (although because she's out of the country she may not write about it for a month or more) and maybe Monique will appreciate tags. Anyone else who I didn't mention who wants to be tagged, consider yourself tagged and tell us all about the foods you like and don't like from the country you're currently living in!

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Song

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go
I'm standin' here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye
But the dawn is breakin' it's early morn
The taxi's waitin', he's blowin' his horn
Already I'm so lonesome I could die

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go
Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane
Don't know when I'll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

There's so many times I've let you down
So many times I've played around
I tell you now, they don't mean a thing
Every place I go, I'll think of you
Every song I sing, I'll sing for you
When I come back, I'll bring your wedding ring

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go
Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane
Don't know when I'll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

Now the time has come to leave you
One more time let me kiss you
Close your eyes I'll be on my way
Dream about the days to come
When I won't have to leave alone
About the times when I won't have to say

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go
Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane
Don't know when I'll be back again
Oh baby, I hate to go

Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane
Don't know when I'll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Paris, la fin?

This is my last weekend in Paris for who knows how long. I'm leaving on Tuesday. My return flight to France is August 20, but that's just because August return flights were cheaper, September return dates were really expensive for some reason. There is no way I'll have a visa by then, if I am lucky enough to score a job that will give me a visa.

So I'm trying to enjoy my last few days in Paris. I've already been to most of the museums I want to go to, so I'm just walking around, looking at things and taking a few last pictures. Yesterday I sat on the steps of the Palais Garnier for about 45 minutes. I can't even begin to describe how much I love the Palais Garnier. Yes, partly because I looooove Phantom of the Opera (book and musical), but also because the building is just so beautiful, a true temple of music and dance. Of course it wasn't designed so beautifully for that; the opera was the place to see and be seen back in the day before TV and radio. It was more about the show of people than the show on stage. Operas were performed three times a week. One night the men would bring their wives, one night their daughters to introduce them to eligible young men, and the third night was reserved for their mistresses. If you ever have a chance to take a guided tour I highly recommend it.

There are a few things I wanted to do in the Paris area before leaving that I won't end up doing. I wanted to go to see the water and music show in the gardens of Versailles; guess that will have to wait for another time. Likewise for Giverny. Guess that gives me an incentive to make sure I come back, right?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Nature vs Nurture

I'm having lunch tomorrow with a colleague and her identical twin daughters, who were my students this year. When the year started I was so worried that I would never be able to tell the two of them apart - they are exactly identical, no discernable physical difference between them at all. I guess that is what identical means, right? They are only seven, so they're too young to have terribly different fashion sense, and for most of the year I just avoided calling them by their names unless we were in the classroom, where they have assigned seats.

Although that strategy failed when they changed seats.

But over the course of the year, as I got to know them, their personality differences became so striking that was much easier to tell them apart (as long as I could observe them for a couple of minutes before using their names outside of the classroom). One is more reserved and proper, more concerned with following the rules and doing what is right and being nice to others. The second one is more of a free spirit, ready to make mischief or joke around, tell stories about her classmates, not as bound by the rules as her sister. There are also similarities in their personalities - they are both extremely shy, so it can take a while to get them to come out of their shells and show their personalities, they are both easily made uncomfortable, they are both good, serious students.

I started thinking about the personality differences between the two girls as they relate to the nature versus nurture argument. They are identical twins and therefore have identical DNA, so the nature component, or genetic component, can't really play a role here (unless there are some heavy duty mutations happening). But neither can nature - they were raised by the same set of parents, have always had the same babysitters and day care programs, the same teachers, they do the same activities. They lead identical lives. I'm sure they've had some different experiences, but I don't think there's been anything major that happened to one and not the other.

The personality differences seem to come from each girl processing their common life experiences differently. The questions remaining are why and how? Perhaps the chemicals in their brains that create memories work in different ways. Perhaps they reason through life experiences in a different manner. No matter how it happens, there isn't a strict nature or nurture reason for their personality differences, because their nature (genes) and nurture (evnironment) are exactly the same. The issue of 'why we are the way we are' seems to be much more complex than that.

Of course, the above paragraph doesn't take into account my ignorance of the exact experiences they have had together and apart. That may be the missing piece of the puzzle, things that have happened to one and not the other. I was friends with half of a set of identical twins in high school, but I never knew her sister well enough to observe their similarities and differences. I'm sure they were very different too, just like my students.

I don't know much about the chemical basis of memories, but this article and this other one are good starts for some basic reading. Here is a good introduction to the issue of nature vs nurture. I also found this fascinating paper about a 13th century romance that anticipates feminism by several hundred years and deals with the issue of nature and nurture.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Small Rant

Flies are the stupidest insects EVER. I leave the window wiiiiide open for them to fly out of and go back to their real home in nature, and what do they do? Land ON the stupid window! You have gigantic eyes, use them!

Today two small flies were in my room. I looked up from marathon packing and saw these two little black dots flying around in circles, then dive bombing, then popping back up and flying close to each other.... couldn't figure out of they were trying to mate or having a fight. They were of course not smart enough to see that the window was open and they could fly right back out the way they came, but they did amuse me for several minutes and provide a respite from packing.

Packing = sucks.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Odds 'n Ends

- is it weird that I was pouty about giving my stuff up to the new assistant? The inspecteur came on Wednesday afternoon to pick up stuff and drive it over to the inspection offices. They are very close to where I live, but I didn't want to schlep all of the stuff over there. I am mostly upset about giving up my couette. I still have a few days here before I head to Paris and I would have liked to spend them with my couette. I love my couette, and I kept the hausse de couette so hopefully I'll be able to find a duvet at home that will fit it.

- D wants to see me before I leave. Not excited about seeing her, but she wants to go out, so it would be a means to get out of the house. But then I would be using her and I don't want to be that person. On the other hand, she is probably using me for the same reason. But, there is a strong possibility that if we go out tomorrow night I would see my French ex, who I haven't seen since a few days after he broke up with me, ie nine months ago. Not sure how I would feel about that. Maybe better to let sleeping dogs lie? I have no idea what I would say to him besides hello, ça va, and see ya.

- I would like to go shopping in Reims one last time, but it would have to be tomorrow, and I think I need to get more packing done. The more pressing issue is that my bags are already packed to the gills and I don't know how I would fit anything else that I might buy in there!

- My birthday is rapidly approaching. And another canciversary - relapse #1 July 22, 2005. And the anniversary of a very dear friend's dath - July 11, 2007. July sucks.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Packing, dreaming, leaving

The past few days have been devoted to packing, and the next several will be too because I've accumulated a ton of stuff over the past two years. I left a bunch of stuff at the inspection this afternoon for next year's assistant (who will not be in the same schools I was). Now my room is starting to look empty, like I'm really packing up and getting out of here.

I'm trying to come to terms with the fact that I really am going back to the US. I am still hoping to get a job, and planning to apply for a few more positions, but realistically, it just isn't going to happen for me. There is a part of me that is ready to go back and start the medical school prereqs, the part that is already resigned to the fact that my life in France is coming to a close, but the other wants nothing more than to stay and have one more year in France. I find myself daydreaming of living in Paris, thinking of arrondissements I would like to live in, how much I would be willing to pay for a place, swiping a navigo pass instead of buying carnets all the time.

But it seems it isn't meant to be. And so I am planning to (hopefully) get out of the lycée next Monday, attend the Katia and Kyliemac Bastille Day picnic, and then spend a few more days in Paris before I leave.

I first heard this poem by ee cummings about four years ago. It popped into my head a couple days ago, probably because I was already thinking about carrying France and the experiences I've had here in my heart, the thought probably springing from my knowledge of the poem. This poem isn't totally relevant to someone thinking about a country, but it's a lovely poem that deserves to be shared. The words are so intimate and yet open and public, loving, painfully devoted and true. Reading it pulls my heart out.

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Yet Another Tale of Idiocy in Picardie

Long-time readers may remember my French friend D, a woman who works with me at the school where I have the monster class. Last year at this time we were thick as thieves, but this year she has decided to spend every waking moment with her boyfriend. The occasional time that we have seen each other or chatted at school the conversation is only about her and how unhappy she is in her relationship and yet she refuses to break up with him because she doesn't want to end up alone. Clearly nothing interesting happens in my life that she would need to ask me about. She also wants me to be at her beck and call so that whenever she wants I'm around to listen to her problems. Sorry D, it's a two way street, both people have to play the game.

But the break up = alone rule has a post script, which is that if she has some other guy waiting to immediately be her next boyfriend, then she would be okay breaking up with her current boyfriend. Enter Arnaud, who she met last summer, and who has been interested in her ever since. Back in April, when D was extremely unhappy while spending vacation with her current boyfriend and his daughters, Arnaud sent her a text asking her to have a drink with him and she said yes. Since then they've been seeing each other frequently for drinks and dinner, but haven't yet crossed "the ultimate line."

So not only do I feel that D hasn't been a very good friend to me and have little desire to hang out with her anymore, I find her behavior with Arnaud completely reprehensible. Which I've tried to explain to her. Her response? "When I was 24 I wouldn't have behaved this way either." Because clearly once we turn 35 the moral compass in our heads becomes a mere suggestion!

But I am on the point of leaving, and she wasn't seeing her boyfriend this past weekend (I guess she's getting close to finally cutting him loose), so she said we should go out together. Fine, I thought to myself. We'll go to the same bar we always go to, where there should be people I know and can talk to, and I'm sure Arnaud will make an appearance but whatever.

Well, D came to pick me up and immediately told me that no, we aren't going to the usual bar, the only place in town where people hang out on the weekends. She's returning to Arnaud and his friends at their tiny neighborhood bar and how lucky for me that I get to come along! I was a bit annoyed at being told what to do, but as I said before, I know how she is about wanting me to always do whatever she wants to do, so I guess I wasn't too surprised.

We got to tiny neighborhood bar (of course she had boyfriend complaining to do in the car), and there was Arnaud with four other guys. One of them, Bruno, was immediately loud and obnoxious and demanded my attention to introduce himself and faire la bise. And then his next question was "comment dit-on mélon en anglais?" Well, it's pretty easy, melon. He starts going off about melons, I didn't understand all of it, but eventually it became clear to me that he was talking about my breasts and wanted to know how my melons were. I was confused and rather insulted and didn't know what to say because he wasn't exactly talking to me to get a response, he had his own one-man show going on. Then he starts telling me that he's seen a picture of me, but I was much fatter back then. Now I'm totally confused. I'm trying to find out how he could possibly have seen a picture of me, and of course I'm feeling very defensive after having this rude, loud, very large man attack me about my weight and my boobs. He and Arnaud and D thought this was all really funny, meanwhile the other guys and I were not laughing. It must have looked like a comedy skit: large man yapping and dancing (yeah, that was thrown in their too), two people laughing along, and half of the table totally silent.

Where'd the picture come from? D took a picture of me last year with her phone. I'm lying on her couch with my chin down so that I look unbelievably fat, and my chest is sticking out so that my boobs look huge. It is a horrible picture of me. She showed this random group of men before coming to pick me up. To get a laugh maybe? How lovely, a laugh at my expense by a whole bunch of foreign men I don't know. I'm going to make sure I do that to all of my girl friends from now on.

This thing with Bruno goes on for 5 - 10 minutes, and then he finally leaves. Thank goodness. Of course the funny part is that he's the fat one and not at all attractive. But apparently he's married and has children. Go figure.

I was very uncomfortable and majorly faire-ing la tête (being angry) but luckily the other guys saw how upset I was and were very nice to me, asking about America and how I like France, etc. The usual stuff that Americans get used to talking about when we're abroad. But then the patron comes out and sits with us and asks why I'm upset and D says it's because I wanted to go somewhere else. Either she was lying to avoid insulting Arnaud's friend, or she's stupid enough to really think that was the only problem. In any case, she was too occupied with Arnaud to pay any attention to me. Maybe she her French wasn't good enough to understand what Bruno said?

And then later in the evening the issue about me being upset because I wanted to go to the other bar came up again, and this time I stood up for myself, mostly because I didn't want the patron to think I was rude. I said no, that is absolutely not why I am upset, I am upset because the minute I arrived this strange man who I don't know started attacking me and that made me very uncomfortable. The guys all agreed with me that it was pretty terrible, except for Arnaud, who starts going on and on about what a great guy Bruno is, how when he's had a bad day he calls him to get a laugh, how nice he is, blah blah blah. Meanwhile, the other guys gallantly come to my rescue, practically riding white horses, and tell Arnaud that I'm right and that if the situations were reversed they would have been upset too. Well, I was never one to wait for Prince Charming to kill the dragon, so I jump back in the game and say to Arnaud that I understand that Bruno is his friend, but I found his behavior towards me rude and inappropriate. The other guys get back into the conversation, I try to get back in, and then Arnaud turns to me and says: "if you go through life being polite and constrained all the time, you'll never get married." He continues to tell me that Bruno is married, the implication clearly being that if I were more like Bruno, I would be married! To a great guy like him! And stuck in Picardie forever!

And then I totally lost track of the conversation because I was trying to verify that I hadn't been abducted by aliens and transported to a parallel universe. At this point I just dropped the conversation because it was obviously not worth the effort to try to explain myself to a person of Arnaud's caliber. Although, now that I think about it, I should have taken Arnaud at his word and started behaving like Bruno and called him out on the size of his bite, which is clearly much smaller than my mélons. I bet he would have proposed to me on the spot.

Anyway, shortly after that D finally agreed to leave for the other bar (Arnaud in tow, naturally) where I could separate myself from the two of them and talk to other people, and even had two guys come up to me and tell me how beautiful I am. And I didn't even have to insult them to get such a lovely compliment! Full disclosure: one of them works in Paris and only comes back to Picardie on the weekends. This confirms my theory that I have been abducted to a parallel universe. I bet Arnaud and Bruno were just trying to make sure that I'll miss Picardie when I leave!

I am so mad at D. First of all, that she would show that ridiculous picture in the first place to men I do not know, and then that she didn't say one damn thing to defend me, but found Bruno funny enough to laugh at him. Guess I don't have to waste any time missing her when I leave. Even the guys who were so quick to defend me later in the evening didn't jump in and tell Bruno to stop. They made up for it later at least, but still, way to be polite to strangers guys. If they could see how uncomfortable I was, why didn't they say something in the first place? I will be very happy to leave this part of life here in my small town behind!

I guess the only bad part of not having any more encounters like this after I leave is that I won't have ridiculous stories to post anymore. Sorry readers, I'm not willing to put myself through this again just for your entertainment!

Friday, July 3, 2009


As I looked around the table yesterday at lunch at some of the people who have made these last two years living in a small town in France enjoyable, I smiled and thought 'I am so lucky.'

I'm lucky that my conseillère pedagogique has been so wonderful: picked me up at the train station, found me a medecin traitant (who I love), helped me open a bank account, helped me buy food for the first time in France (and several times after that), helped me get settled into my schools, always gave me wonderful teaching advice, and was always encouraging and supportive of the job I did.

I'm lucky that the inspector of my circonscription is a very nice man who intervened last year when I had a little problem at the lycée, and who agrees with me that English in the primary schools should be only oral and not written.

I'm lucky that the secretaries at the circonscription are delightful, helpful ladies who were always ready to lend a hand with everything paperwork related.

I'm so lucky to have been placed in V Town this year with a really stellar group of teachers and adorable students. I absolutely loved working in this school this year. The teachers there have given me a better image of the French school system, that it doesn't always have to be breaking down the child's self esteem and spirit, boring classes without any stimulating activities, schools where nothing has changed for the past 40 years. Too bad I didn't work there last year!

I'm so lucky that this year I've gotten to know C, who works for the RASED (travelling aides for students en difficulté, kind of like a tutor who comes to work with you during school). C and her family, who I've had the pleasure of dining with several times, are just as lovely as you could imagine. They have a beautiful family life and are very giving, caring people. And her husband downloaded Lost episodes for me all this season!

This is just an accounting of the thinking I was doing during the departure lunch we had yesterday, not at all a full summary of why I was so lucky to be placed in my small town. I really feel that I hit the jackpot in my assistant posting. Certainly it was not all roses and happiness, there were of course things that I didn't like and times when I was unhappy, but overall, I had a really great experience.

Especially when I consider the fact that Monday, July 6 will mark 5 years since I was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, the fact that I even got to France in the first place is amazing. The fact that I liked it enough to stay, and was able to stay for a second year, is even more amazing. Recently I've been thinking that my life is extremely unfair, that lots of bad stuff happens to me and people I know and why can't I stay another year when I really, really want to. This is not a line of thinking I ever gave into until recently, when it seemed like the bad things kept piling up and cancer related problems kept coming back to bite me in the ass. Seriously, five years later, why isn't it over yet? Why us? Why can't we just move on and live our lives?

But you know what? Life is unfair. Bad things happen to everyone. We should focus on what is good in our lives and try to work with the bad.

Considering the facts, I am really freaking lucky.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

End of School Bilan

End of the school year meals scheduled for this week: 4

Meals I actually want to go to: 2

Current "thanks for working with us for two years" present count: one necklace, two bracelets, this neat thing to attach to my purse, and a book of drawings my kids made for me with little notes of thanks
(I think the necklace and one of the bracelets were given in protest by a school that could really care less if I'm there or not. Whatever, the kids love me and they gave me sooooo many drawings on Monday that the other teachers were insanely jealous)

Number of times I have almost cried at my schools while saying goodbye this week: About 120

Number of kids I will miss: Okay, I admit it, I am a big softy and I will probably miss every single one of my kids, even the ones from the monster class who never shut their mouths one single time over the past two years. Grand total of about 250 over the course of two years

Number of those 250 students whose names I actually know: I know every single name of every single kid this year, including kids in maternelle and CP who aren't actually my students. Last year I had one class where I only knew about half of the names (and I've forgotten most of those names now!), but otherwise I was good for all of my other classes.

My final trip to a school will be tomorrow. I don't actually have to work, but we're having an end of year lunch (this is one of the meals I actually want to go to), so I figure I'll stick around for the afternoon. Play some jeu de societe and hangman.

I'm going to miss my job.